Best Pellet Smoker for the Money | 4 [key] features


You’ve made your decision – you need a dedicated smoker – you need a pellet smoker – and you’re ready to buy the best pellet smoker your money (budget) can buy. You are ready to start enjoying the Lazy-Q Life of easy and fantastic BBQ. The only thing left between you and that awesome lifestyle is figuring out which pellet smoker actually is the best for your money.

If you haven’t already decided a pellet smoker is the right type for you, read What kind of Smoker should I buy?

Our definition of “best for the money”

We’ve identified the key features that differentiate different models at the same price point as well as different price points. In other words we looked for the “best for the money” features for a pellet smoker in a given price range, and we looked at what jumping to the next price level added in terms of “best for the money” features and quality.

How much money for the best pellet smoker for the money?

We’ve broken them down into the following main groups –

  • best full-size pellet smoker for <$1000
  • best full-size pellet smoker for >$1000
  • best full-size pellet smoker for >$2000

Smoked pork ribs on electric smoker rack with dark bark
Fall off the bone ribs in a Smokin-It Model 3

Key features about best pellet smoker for the money

1st key feature

We think the most important feature of any pellet smoker is the controller. How your pellet grill manages temperature is a very important feature to evaluate. Less expensive models will have controllers whose accuracy may be only to a +/- 30 degree temperature range.

There are basically two types of controllers on the market. The first is PID, the other is an Ortech. More expensive pellet grills and smokers will have PID controllers capable of managing temperature to within a few degrees.

How much does precisely holding temperature affect the final product? Well, I’ve seen it work out both ways but prefer to have the precision. Precision costs money but it’s available if you’re wiilling to spend the money on it.

It’s not a tough choice really. Having bought an Auberins PID controller for my Smokin-It Model 3 I can attest to 2 things:

  • It works as advertised and holds a precise temp.
  • Once you’ve bought one, you can’t change your mind.

In other words I really enjoyed having it, but am not sure I would do it again as an add-on to an electric smoker. Primarily because the Smokin-It Model 3 is such a high-end electric meat smoker that precise temps weren’t required for superior results. The Smokin-It regularly produced very fine barbecue.

For the best pellet smoker grills in every price range, your controller is built-in. You’ll likely have a PID controller but let’s see whether that’s universally true.

Traeger, Rec-Tec and others have PID controller algorithms, Wi-Fi connectivity and dual probes to measure a couple of pork butts. These are claimed to be accurate to within 5 degrees. Lazy-Q Life to be sure.

2nd key feature

The 2nd most important feature of the best pellet smoker for the money is the cooking chamber and fire pot construction.  The fire pot is where all your pellets burn and the cooking chamber is where your food cooks. You want as much stainless steel as possible in these areas.

Stainless cooking chambers and stainless steel fire pots aren’t hard to find on pellet smoker grills approaching $1000 and up. For the cheapo models you’ll get a lower grade of steel and therefore durability. So, it’s something to pay attention to when you shop and when you think about budget.

The reality is, unless your budget is near $1000 you are going to be buying at the lower end of the pellet grill spectrum. This is where the value for money proposition kicks in again. Now is as good a time as any to talk about it so let’s remember – just because you can buy something for $600 doesn’t mean it’s worth it.

3rd key feature

The 3rd key feature for you to be looking for is a sear box or sear plate. Now you may not need or want a sear box, but you definitely need to know whether you do. Think about how you’re going to use this pellet grill. If you’ll ever be smoking meats that you’ll want to sear, then a sear box is pretty much required – unless you want to fire up the old grill to sear your steaks. Tri-tip is another good example of needing to sear after a smoke.

Sear boxes add at least $200 to the price of a pellet smoker so remember that when you’re looking for the best value. If you’re fine firing up the grill each time then no need to bother. There are a number of videos out there showing the inferior sear provided by a variety of pellet grill brands. If you’re curious about what a prolper sear box does and looks like, then watch this video and you’ll be clear on what they are and do.

Then you’ll want to consider the other options for searing meat you presently have.

  • Do you have a gas or charcoal grill?
  • Do you already own a sear box?
  • Do you have a cast iron pan and outdoor heat source – gas burner – you can use to sear?
  • Do you plan to smoke a lot of meats that require searing?

After understanding all your options and considering their importance the decision can be made – do you need a sear box with this pellet smoker grill?

 

 

4th key feature

The 4th key feature in a best pellet smoker grill for the money is of course, the money. How much are we talking about and how will we break it down? We’ve reviewed the features and specifications for each of the models covered and compared them to the competition. Here’s how we are breaking them down by price.

  • best full-size pellet smoker for <$1000
  • best full-size pellet smoker for >$1000
  • best full-size pellet smoker for >$2000

Our results – best pellet smoker grill for the money is:

After reviewing hundreds of pellet smokers and personally examining/using more than a few it comes down to just a couple of models.

[uat2_table id=”934″ /]

 

In the <$1000 range there are lots of choices. In fact you should consider $1000 the budget for entering into the world of pellet smokers. Sure, there are models out there for $549, but are they really worth your time. Consider the $549 pellet grill to be the equivalent of the best gas grill under $200. You can find them – but will they last more than a couple of years? Will they perform well enough to give you good results.

Indeed the best full-size pellet smoker for under $1000 costs $899. We understand the enthusiasm around Traeger pellet grills. They have offerings at several price points under $1000. I like the REC-TECs as well – very nice looking.

But in terms of best value for the money, we don’t think you can beat the appeal of the dedicated sear box on the Camp Chef Woodwind. This unit can serve as gas grill substitute with the ability to sear up some steaks, burgers, chops or whatever. And, it serves as a great pellet smoker.

The Camp Chef garners awesome reviews and at this price point comes highly recommended – it’s almost a no-brainer. Click here to read more about the Camp Chef Woodwind on Amazon.

In the >$1000 range you might think there’s a ton of choices – and you’d be right. But what’s not so obvious is the lack of additional features you’re going to get. All the pellet smoker grill in the >$1000 price range have stainless steel, PID controllers, and sear plates you can use for steaks, etc. At this price point what you’ll find is fantastic construction quality, more cooking area, bigger hoppers, and nicer design elements.

We’re actually going to recommend 2 pellet grill smokers in this range. The first is the REC TEC RT-700. It’s industrial yet beautiful. It’s got a huge hopper, 700 sq./in. of cooking area, stainless everything and a PID controller. It’s a real beauty and runs about $1499. You can read more about the REC TEC RT-700 at Amazon here.

The other winner at this price point is the Yoder YS640. It’s truly industrial and built like a tank, If you’re not already familiar with Yoder smokers, you should take a look. Very popular and well regarded. They’re not really sold online but you can read more about them at the Yoder website here.

In the >$2000 range we found no added value. Sure you can get a competition rig from Yoder or many other manufacturers. But the best pellet smoker grill for the money doesn’t cost over $2000. Spending that much is a personal decision of course. And if you’ve got it to spend, go for it.

It’s just that we haven’t found anything superior in that range. If your budget is over $2000 for a pellet smoker, there are plenty of bricks and mortar BBQ retailers out there that can show you the high-end stuff in person.

Conclusion – what’s the best pellet smoker for the money?

As we’ve covered, if your budget is $1000 of less, go with the Camp Chef. If it’s >$1000 take a look at the Yoder YS640 and the REC TEC RT-700. They are both about $1500.

They are very different looking and will appeal to different folks. We think you’ll prefer one over the other simply because of the design differences. One will be more appealing to you.

Regardless of which you choose as your best pellet smoker for the money, we hope this article has been helpful in narrowing the field and focusing your decision-making on the things that matter. The Camp Chef and the REC TEC are readily available online. The Yoder is available direct or through their dealer network. Enjoy your BBQ and the Lazy-Q Life!

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