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Novice need advice on first pellet smoker purchase

Discussion in 'Pellet Smokers' started by reformedvegan, May 28, 2019.

  1. Hello, and thank you for checking out my thread.

    Here is the deal, I have never used a pellet smoker/grill, and I want one. I have an $800 gift certificate to Cabela's. That is my max budget (because my SO won't allow me to spend more), so I need the best recommendation in that budget from Cabela's or Bass Pro Shop.

    I am leaning towards the Cabela's-branded 24" pellet grill that is made by Louisiana Grills because of the "searing" feature (something my SO in interested in for burgers and hot dogs, though we have a small Weber kettle with cast iron grates also that can be used for searing). I am leaning toward the 24" size because we will rarely, if ever, be cooking for more than 8-10 people, and because I have the impression that a smaller size will tend to hold temps better and perhaps use less pellets (efficiency). I don't like that it only has one temperature probe, and that there is no matching cover available for it. I am concerned about all these lower-cost pellet smokers, not just the Cabela's-branded one, because of what I have read about temperature fluctuations, auger jams, and general reliability. I have my heart set on a pellet smoker though, and am firmly limited by budget and vendor. I will be the primary (90%) user of this, and I am most interested in Santa Maria-style barbecue, Texas barbecue, and North Carolina-style barbecue, as well as possibly learning to make and smoke my own sausages and other meats. My SO is interested in continuing to be able to make burgers and hot dogs for her young nephews.

    More details. We are in the San Francisco Bay Area. Outdoor temps will be between upper 40s and mid-upper 80s (Fahrenheit) throughout the year. I am moving in with my SO, and we both decided we need a new grill. I convinced her to get a pellet smoker/grill, and we have an $800 Cabala's gift card from my late father. I thought it would be nice to use this as a kind-of housewarming gift from my dad, since he can't actually be with us, and I think my dad would have liked this idea too. My SO is very thrifty, so my budget is firmly limited to the amount of the gift card. She is also unlikely to allow us to "upgrade" our grill for a long time, so I want to make a purchase that will serve us for as long as possible. I would also like to have enough left over on the gift card for a grill cover (if the model purchased doesn't come with one), and smoke tube, and any other essential accessories.

    Tank you so much, in advance, for your help!

    ~ Jon
  2. drunkenmeatfist

    drunkenmeatfist Smoking Fanatic

    I believe that Louisiana Grills and Pit Boss are owned by the same company (Danson). If I were in your shoes I would focus more on the smoking capabilities since you still have another grill that can serve that purpose. Pit Boss also just increased their warranty to 5 years so I would probably lean toward them. I know you said you are thinking of a smaller one, but be sure that this is what you want. It is always better to have too much space versus not enough. Personally, I would go with the Pit Boss 820.
  3. @drunkenmeatfist Thank you. It seems that all the pellet smokers offered by Cabela's/Bass Pro Shops are Danson/Pit Boss/Louisiana Grills, so it seems they have an arrangement with that company. They all come with a 5-yr warranty and they all seem to offer "precise" temp control and a range of 180-500 deg F. It seems impossible for me to differentiate the "smoking capability" from one model to the next - they all seems nearly identical based on specs. This is why I need help! LOL

    ~ Jon
  4. smokin peachey

    smokin peachey Smoking Fanatic OTBS Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    If I had $800 to spend it wouldn’t be on a pellet smoker. I would be looking at a stick burner. Real fire plus real meat equals really good.
    Hawging It likes this.
  5. SlowmotionQue

    SlowmotionQue Meat Mopper

    Whatever you do, don't overspend by buying into hype that a pellet grill can do it all and do it all well.

    It can't. It can't "do it all" any more than a pair of ChannelLock pliers can "do it all". And I'm not ripping on ChannelLocks.

    I see people spending good sums of money on pellet grills from the top names in the pellet grill business, thinking that their pellet grills can "smoke with the best stick burners", "grill a burger with the best Kettles", and sear a steak with the best Kamados.

    It would be funny if it were not sad.

    You already have the searing base covered with your weber kettle and cast iron grates. No pellet grill anywhere near the price range you're talking about is going to surpass that Weber/cast iron combination that you already have, in searing capability.

    Get a pellet grill with the capacity, and the type controller you want, if Cabela's offers it.

    Otherwise, this being a "gift", ie you aren't spending your own money, then get the best that they have to offer that fits your needs.

    Good luck. And my opinion might not differ a great deal from that of the gentleman who said look at a stick burner, put that into your current lineup of your Weber Kettle and pocket the rest of the money or spend it on something else.

    But if it just has to be a pellet grill, well then choose wisely.
    Last edited: May 28, 2019
  6. Stick burner is a non-starter with my SO. It took a lot of discussion to get her to budge from her desire for propane to consenting on a pellet smoker. I am looking for the best one I can get from Cabela's or Bass Pro for $800 or less. That's the deal - it's not entirely up to me!

    ~ Jon
  7. SlowmotionQue

    SlowmotionQue Meat Mopper


    If that's the case, I'd start looking at and for every review that I could find on the pellet grills that Cabela's sells and go from there.
  8. smokin peachey

    smokin peachey Smoking Fanatic OTBS Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    Then I would just spend $800 on fishing supplies and use the kettle you already have because it should turn out better bbq then a pellet pooper.
  9. @SlowmotionQue That's what I've done, and that's why I've come here - based on reviews, every pellet smoker seems to be both the best thing ever and also total garbage, also the specs seems very similar from one model to the next. It seems impossible to make a detrmination based on reviews and specs.

    What type of controller should I be looking for? Or perhaps I should ask, what type of controller is likely to be the most reliable and accurate?

    ~ Jon
  10. SlowmotionQue

    SlowmotionQue Meat Mopper

    Most accurate in terms of staying with or closest to, your selected set temperature, PID
  11. jac63

    jac63 Fire Starter

    I wasn't sure what Cabelas carried so I took a quick look at their website. From what I saw if I was dead set on buying a pellet smoker from them I'd go with the Pit Boss 820 Deluxe for $599.99. I suspect you could find the same unit cheaper but you have a Cabelas card so that's where you have to shop. I have an 820FB and overall it's a good smoker. Is it perfect? NO but it does turn out great tasting food and so far I am more than satisfied with it.
  12. mike243

    mike243 Smoking Fanatic SMF Premier Member

    Good luck as there are a lot of good choices, a lot of folks hate them without every having eaten food from 1, no its not the same as a stick burner but it has smoke flavor ,yes they can sear but not at 1000 degree , I like to have different methods to smoke and cook and cant knock any method or cooker.
  13. Dent08

    Dent08 Newbie

    Also want to reinforce as well how great of an option a pellet smoker actually is. Produces tender meat, with a good smoke flavour (i've actually found it to be dependent on the type of pellets you get) and is relatively easy to use while still requiring some work to maintain the cook. If it was actually "set it and forget it" I don't think i'd be too interested in one.

    Don't let reviews scare you off from buying one of these, yes they all have their quirks but the minor temp swings and fluctuations aren't enough to throw off a cook of meat and alter the flavour. I bought a Pit Boss 440D from Cabelas and have little regrets, the thing works like a dream and produces great flavour, I only wish I bought a bigger grill.
  14. oldsmokerdude

    oldsmokerdude Smoking Fanatic SMF Premier Member

    I see some folks lump Pit Boss in with Louisiana Grills. While it is true that Danson is the parent company of both, they are distinctly different companies. Pit Boss (IMO) offers a great value for your money, giving you a lot of features, decent build quality, and larger cooking area for the buck. Louisiana Grills offer a more expensive grill with better build quality, thicker steel, etc. That said, both brands will work well for you.

    I personally have a Louisiana Grill smoker and have had not a single issue with it. Great smoke flavor, consistent temps, easy to use.
  15. retfr8flyr

    retfr8flyr Smoking Fanatic OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

  16. Thank you @SlowmotionQue, that is helpful

    Thank you @jac63, after some more research, this looks like a pretty good option. It may be bigger than we need. I see Cabela's also has the 700S that comes with a cover, and that one would give us a little more area on the main grill level vs. the old Weber gas grill that we set out on the curb for trash pickup this morning. I'm looking hard at these two models right now.

    Cabela's also has Traeger, and the Lil Tex Elite 22 is on sale in a package that includes a cover and add-on shelf. At $500, this could leave a lot of $ on my gift card for accessories and pellets, but it looks like the cooking grate on this one is not cast iron, while the two Pit Boss models in question come with cast iron grates standard. I think this is a major consideration. I can imagine that having CI grates would do more for getting a decent sear than the little fire pot slider thing on some of these smokers.

    Thanks @mike243, When my SO mentions she wants to be able to sear, she is talking from her experience with hollow bar grates on the old gas Weber that just got but out with the trash. I am sure any of these pellet smokers will do at least as good a job as that old gas grill, and that's all we are really looking for.

    Thanks @Dent08, I am looking at the 700S and 820 Deluxe. We are coming from a gas grill that had 420 sq. in. on the main cooking grate, so these models would be a step up in area. I plan to add an A-maze-N Tube if I need more smoke flavor.

    @oldsmokerdude, noted. I have read that the new Cabela's Pro Series pellet grills are made by Dansons, and are basically re-branded Pit Bosses, but use the Louisiana Grills PID controller. I have not confirmed this "from the horse's mouth", but some reviews on these mention wild temp swings or temps that are way out-of-range. The price on these seem good though, if these problems are outliers.

    @retfr8flyr, thank you. I note that the Lil' Tex Elite 22 is $500 and provides the same cooking area on the main level as the Pro 575 at $800. It's hard for me to imagine that the Pro 575 is worth the $300 premium. Please correct me if I am wrong. I understand that the new controller on the Pro 575 is a PID controller, but I am wondering if this is really all that big a deal. If an older style controller can maintain temps +/- 20 deg F or so, then I am feeling doubtful that it will be that big of a disadvantage to have a non-PID controller.

    from my perspective, here are Pros and Cons of what I am looking at:

    Cabela's Pro Series:
    Made by Dansons with 5-yr warranty, looks like it has cast iron grates, I have read that it has the Louisiana Grills PID controller, price seems right.
    ...but the cover available for it seems like it is very low quality and will fade/fall apart quickly, lack of available accessories, future availability of replacement parts seems uncertain if Cabela's changes their supplier

    Pit Boss 700S or 820 Deluxe:
    Dansons with 5-yr warranty, comes with cast iron cooking grates standard, 700S comes with a cover and one is available for the 820 - the reviews of the covers state they are highly durable, reviews seem very good for these models, seems like they will have better control in smoker mode than some other brands due to the Pit Boss adjustable "P" setting
    ...but no PID controller, no integrated temp probe for meat

    Traeger Lil' Tex Elite 22:
    Lowest price at $500 which leaves a lot of $ left over for accessories and fuel, lots of available accessories, comes with a cover
    ...but it looks like the cover it comes with is not full length, the standard grates are thin steel and cast iron is a $90 upgrade, may be constructed of a thinner gauge steel than the Pit Boss and Cabela's models (would need to confirm but is listed as having a significantly lighter weight), no meat temp probe, no PID controller, and no "P" setting or equivalent to the Pit Boss

    ... I think I am leaning toward the Pit Boss 700S right now. Agree? Disagree?

    Thanks for all the input!

    ~ Jon
  17. Inscrutable

    Inscrutable Smoke Blower SMF Premier Member

    If I could get one with a PID controller I would. Hear too many problems with pretty wide temp swings.

    Probe not any issue ... you will want to spring for a third-party decent multi-probe unit anyway. Not sure if Cabela’s or Bass sells Ink-Birds or Thermoworks.

    Full disclosure: have friends with pellet poopers, but I only have an (Pit Boss) electric, (BGE) kamado, and (Vidalia) gas grill. Do have both an Inkbird and Thermoworks - both work great.
  18. jac63

    jac63 Fire Starter

    Looks like you are certainly doing your homework and I expect any of the units you have focused on will serve you well. FWIW the cast iron grates on my 820FB are porcelain coated. They are very easy to clean and seem to be durable enough they just don't look like cast iron. I assume PB uses these same grates in their other smokers and don't want you to be surprised if they aren't exactly what you expect.
    Good luck with your selection and I just can't imagine you'll be anything other than pleased with your new pellet smoker.
  19. retfr8flyr

    retfr8flyr Smoking Fanatic OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    A PID controller is a huge advantage over the old style controller, can you say flame outs and hopper fires? The new D2 controller is the latest controller and comes with a brushless auger motor, to prevent auger jams and for superior performance, as well as wifi control, with the available app you can completely control your grill from your phone from anywhere, so yes it is well worth the extra $300.
  20. Dent08

    Dent08 Newbie

    In my opinion go see the Lil Tex Elite in person if you are interested in it, it is extremely small and really looked like a cheaper quality Traeger to me... I thought it was comparable to the PB 440 that I bought but it looks like a peanut compared to Pitboss' smaller models.

    Searing sounds really important to you and your spouse as well, with the broiler plate slider in the Pitboss it does exactly as it's supposed to and works amazingly.