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Thinking about making the switch from wood fired smoker to a pellet smoker

mdrollins

Newbie
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Joined Dec 6, 2016
I never thought I would ever be in the position I am now, but I'm seriously considering making a switch from a wood burning smoker with an offset firebox to a new pellet smoker. My family is from Dallas, so BBQ/grilling/smoking has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Of course, anyone who has owned a wood burning smoker and uses/used it frequently knows it's more than about cooking, it's an all day social event. Plus, it takes a lot of time and practice to keep the temperature exactly where you need it, monitor the fire to make sure it's always producing good smoke, not smoldering wood, which gives the meat a bitter taste. It becomes more of an art, or a hobby, and the end result can be enjoyed for days and shared with many people.

Well, my cousin, who grew up in Dallas (my parents moved to Louisiana when I was little), has been living in Kansas City for 6 or 7 years now, another good BBQ town. He bought a pellet smoker about a year ago and has always been telling me how great it is. You can set it and forget it. As much as I love sitting around the smoker all day feeding and stoking the fire, sometimes I wish it would be easier to smoke a nice big brisket or a couple of Boston Butts and be able to have a little freedom while it cooks. Most importantly, it would be nice to cook a big piece of meat overnight without having to get up every couple of hours to add some wood and turn the meat so it can be enjoyed at noon on a Sunday while watching football.

So, that brings me to where I am now. I've decided to buy one of these pellet smokers, I've been researching them a good bit (my cousin loves his Traeger), and the majority of the reviews I've read speak highly of the Mak, I'm just not willing to drop $2500 on my first pellet smoker. I'd like to get a little feedback from people who have been using pellet smokers for a while, have tried a few different brands, and can recommend something in the middle of zero and what the 2 Star General costs.

Since I'm making this first step, I might as well buy one that has all the conveniences that a pellet smoker brings to the table vs a wood smoker. It would be nice to have temperature monitoring, both inside the smoker and with built-in meat probes (I want the temp dials to actually have temps, not low, medium, or high), a smoker that feeds the fire with pellets to maintain the temperature I want (maybe they all do this?), I want it to have a fan in it for convection cooking to keep the temps even, and most importantly, I want one that puts out enough smoke so you can see the red ring in the meat and can taste that it's been cooked over wood. This last one has been my primary concern. I'm afraid I'll lose the flavor I get with burning logs of hickory or mesquite.

While researching pellet smokers, I've seen some where you can buy accessories for it, like another rack to increase the surface area, a shelf, hooks, a larger hopper, etc. It would be nice to have some flexibility, but hopefully the one I buy will have everything I want. It would be nice to know that replacement parts are available since these pellet smokers have more moving parts than my current wood fired smoker.

If you've made it this far through my post and can suggest some pellet smokers that have the features I'm looking for in the price range I'm looking for, I would greatly appreciate it. I don't want the cheapest, but I don't want the most expensive either. I think the functionality I mentioned is the most important, and I'm willing to sacrifice surface area for functionality. Oh, one last question I have, can some of these pellet smokers really be used for grilling? I just can't picture this on a pellet smoker. If so, how well does the grilling work? Right now, I have a different grill I use for grilling than I use for smoking because I can't get the type of heat I want to sear a steak on a smoker. It also won't taste as good as cooking a nice thick rib eye over some hardwood or hardwood charcoal and have the fat from the rib eye just melt off the steak flaming up the fire to help search all those juices inside the steak, so I'd like to hear how good the grilling function of some of these smokers are. Is it worth buying one that can grill? If it included an infrared searing section, that would be a plus. Thanks in advance for any suggestions I get, and I'm sure everyone has their own preference, I'm just trying to narrow my search.
 

bregent

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>He bought a pellet smoker about a year ago and has always been telling me how great it is.

Before addressing your questions I need to ask if you have tasted food from your cousin's pellet grill? Pellet grills produce noticeably less smoke flavor than other types of smokers and many folks are just never satisfied with the results. Having said that,  many people do like the smoke profile. Some use supplemental smoke devices to add more flavor with mixed results.

> It would be nice to have temperature monitoring, both inside the smoker and with built-in meat probes

Are you talking about remote monitoring? Most grills have local monitoring of grill temp and others include meat probes. A few have wifi that provides remote monitoring. But you can always add a remote temp monitoring device for less than $50 to any grill.

>a smoker that feeds the fire with pellets to maintain the temperature I want

Yes, they all do this.

>I want it to have a fan in it for convection cooking to keep the temps even

They all have fans, but vary in their ability to maintain even temps. I have a Memphis which is marketed as true convection and probably has the most even temps of all the grills out there - but is probably above your price range. 

>I want one that puts out enough smoke so you can see the red ring in the meat and can taste that it's been cooked over wood. 

First some clarification - smoke ring is not caused by smoke but from other gases produced during combustion. That's why you can have an electric smoker that produces a ton of smoke but results in little smoke ring, and a wood fired smoker producing little smoke that gives a deep smoke ring. Having said that, most pellet grills do produce good smoke ring. As mention earlier, if you're used to a strong up front smoke flavor, you may be disappointed.

>Oh, one last question I have, can some of these pellet smokers really be used for grilling? 

Some pellet grills do remarkably well at grilling, particularly those with direct flame options. But lots of folks that don't have direct flame just crank them up high and use grill grates to sear. If you think you'll be grilling a lot and don't need a huge capacity for low and slow, look at the Fast Eddy PG500. Probably in your price range, produces good smoke flavor and is very versatile.
 

mdrollins

Newbie
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Joined Dec 6, 2016
Well, I have no problem spending the money to buy a Memphis or even something larger, but I haven't even tasted anything that's been smoked on a pellet grill. My cousin recently bought his pellet smoker, but he and I live in different states. We grew up smoking meat on a wood burning New Braunfels smoker with an offset firebox, so if he likes the flavor, I'm pretty sure I would too, but I don't want to spend $4000 for a smoker having never tasted the finished product. If I like it, then I'll probably get something better after a year or so. If I could, I would love to taste something cooked on one. Maybe I should visit some local dealers and find out if they ever cook anything on the weekends so I can go taste it.

I like the smoke flavor when I'm smoking something, but not an overpowering smoke taste. To give you an idea, whenever I smoke some ribs, a Boston Butt, a brisket, etc, I usually keep it on the smoker for about half of the length of time to fully cook it, and then I either wrap the meat in foil to finish it off or I transfer it to the oven inside. I don't like an overpowering smoke taste. I would rather be able to taste the meat, my rub, my marinade/mopping sauce, along with a smoke flavor. I don't want the smoke to overpower everything else. I don't normally smoke and vegetables on my smoker, I'd rather grill them over hardwood coals instead.

Ideally, I'd like to be able to taste something cooked on a smoker like this, but even if it's not exactly how I like it, I could add one of those tubes to add additional pellets if it's not enough smoke, but I have a feeling I'll be happy with the flavor. Even if it's close, the additional features of a pellet smoker will outweigh everything else. Don't get me wrong, I love to keep the fire at the right temp, make sure it's not producing too much smoke, etc, but sometimes when I have friends over, it would be nice to visit with everyone instead of being a slave to the smoker.

Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-G935A using Tapatalk
 

scottma

Smoke Blower
89
58
Joined Jun 26, 2015
I bought my pellet smoker back in May and could not be happier.  It really is so easy to use and i've never had any complaints from guests about the lack of smoke flavor.  I researched a lot and ended up getting the Rec Tec rt680.  Its large enough to cook a ton of food and reasonably priced at $1000.  I ordered a custom cover and the grill grates so with shipping I was all in for about $1400.  The build quality is excellent and the temp control is spot on.  You should definitely look into that grill. There are almost 300 reviews on amazon and mostly all of them are 5 stars.  It also has a huge hopper holding 40lbs which is one of the largest on the market.   Also their customer service is unbelievable if you need anything. 
 

bregent

Master of the Pit
OTBS Member
★ Lifetime Premier ★
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Joined Mar 1, 2014
Well, I have no problem spending the money to buy a Memphis or even something larger, but I haven't even tasted anything that's been smoked on a pellet grill. My cousin recently bought his pellet smoker, but he and I live in different states. We grew up smoking meat on a wood burning New Braunfels smoker with an offset firebox, so if he likes the flavor, I'm pretty sure I would too, but I don't want to spend $4000 for a smoker having never tasted the finished product. If I like it, then I'll probably get something better after a year or so. If I could, I would love to taste something cooked on one. Maybe I should visit some local dealers and find out if they ever cook anything on the weekends so I can go taste it.

I like the smoke flavor when I'm smoking something, but not an overpowering smoke taste. To give you an idea, whenever I smoke some ribs, a Boston Butt, a brisket, etc, I usually keep it on the smoker for about half of the length of time to fully cook it, and then I either wrap the meat in foil to finish it off or I transfer it to the oven inside. I don't like an overpowering smoke taste. I would rather be able to taste the meat, my rub, my marinade/mopping sauce, along with a smoke flavor. I don't want the smoke to overpower everything else. I don't normally smoke and vegetables on my smoker, I'd rather grill them over hardwood coals instead.

Ideally, I'd like to be able to taste something cooked on a smoker like this, but even if it's not exactly how I like it, I could add one of those tubes to add additional pellets if it's not enough smoke, but I have a feeling I'll be happy with the flavor. Even if it's close, the additional features of a pellet smoker will outweigh everything else. Don't get me wrong, I love to keep the fire at the right temp, make sure it's not producing too much smoke, etc, but sometimes when I have friends over, it would be nice to visit with everyone instead of being a slave to the smoker.

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Sounds like you would probably enjoy the smoke flavor from a pellet grill, but it would make sense to try to find a dealer that does demo's. Call around your area and see - even if it's not on a model you are considering. You might also check Craig's list - there's usually a Traeger or two and you can often find them for cheap. Use it for a while and it will make it easier to see what features you want when you invest in a more expensive model.  
 

mdrollins

Newbie
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Joined Dec 6, 2016
Makes sense. Thanks for the info. I'm sure there's gotta be someone around this weekend using a demo. I can't wait to get one and not have to worry about splitting logs into smaller pieces with my ax and having to hover around the smoker all day having to worry about it getting too hot.
 

mowin

Master of the Pit
1,178
212
Joined May 30, 2015
I like my pellet smoker. I use it 2-3 times a week. That said, i was disappointed with the smoke profile. It just wasn't the same as my gasser or a stick burner.

3 things helped achieve the smoke profile I like.

1- I use 100% hickory , maple, ect. NOT to be confused with 100% hardwood pellets, which have a base wood as a filler, and only 30-40% of the "flavor" wood.

2- I use a amnts tube in most of my cooks to add more smoke. I also often mix wood chips with the pellets.

3- I start my cooks on the lowest setting as thats when the pellets put out the most smoke. The higher the set temp, the less smoke.
 

h8that4u

Smoke Blower
117
117
Joined Jul 4, 2014
I have not pulled the trigger yet on a pellet grill, but in doing some research I have settled on the RecTec when I do get one. That being said, my local ace hardware store is always cooking something on their display model out front. In talking with them last year, they offered to allow me to bring a cut of meat and smoke it when I had time. May want to start there.
 

fmfa0801

Smoke Blower
87
10
Joined May 8, 2011
I have owned electric, stick, pellet and propane smokers. Pellet is so easy to smoke with but a stick burner I think makes best tasting meat.

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tallbm

Master of the Pit
OTBS Member
★ Lifetime Premier ★
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Joined Dec 30, 2016
Hi there and welcome!

I cannot recommend a pellet grill but I might be able to give you an idea on something to try for to maybe get the best of both worlds.

There is a simple device/tray known as the A-Maze-N Pellet Smoker (AMNPS).  This little contraption cost about $30-$35 and burns pellets or saw dust.  It puts off a ton of good smoke with ease, I use it as my smoke generator for my electric smoker.

For about $35 and a pound of wood pellets you could give it a try in your current offset smoker.  This would cover your smoke outpout for 10-14 hours without messing it anything (set and forget).

As for heat, maybe something like the charcoal snake method would allow you to generate heat in your current offset smoker overnight.  I don't know what your setup looks like but if you could do a snake feed for long continuous heat then your heat would be covered (snake method here https://www.kingsford.com/how-to/smoking/#3hXOZFprATCGvibJ.97)

Again I'm not trying to dissuade and I don't have any direct input on a pellet smoker but for little to now $$$ you might be able to alleviate your problems and use your current smoker :)
 

papadon45

Fire Starter
35
11
Joined Dec 30, 2016
Hi, I purchased a Traeger Li'l Texas Elite Pro in November and simply love it. Since my wife and I  along with our kids like a mild smoke flavor, it is ideal. The Traeger Pro models have a new controller one that is similar to but not the same as the Savannah Stoker v4 so I have noticed very few of the issues that other Traeger owners write about in the various forums. We have smoked a lot since the purchase and it was wonderful to put a 16lb packer brisket on the grill, make sure the hopper was full, set the temperature and get a full 8 hours of sleep. The next morning I simply added more pellets to the hopper, made coffee, read the paper and didn't think about the brisket for another 4 or 5 hours. We use our grill 3-4 times per week. It's amazing the different taste steaks or chops have when you smoke them for 45 to 60 minutes, turn up the heat to 375 and finish by grilling them. 

Don't get me wrong, there is a learning curve but you can have just as much fun experimenting with a pellet grill as you did with your offset smoker without wasting time tending to the fire.

That's my opinion. 
 

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