Forget propane. Today's most popular tailgate barbecue is the portable pellet grill.
People's tastes are shifting away from gas and over to the rich flavors of pellets and smoke. And that's a good thing! There's something wonderful about meat infused with smoke. A portable pellet grill provides that awesome flavor in a convenient, easy-to-transport package.
Of course, there are dozens of ways to barbecue your food. There are charcoal, gas, and woodchips. When I go camping, I usually just slap a light grill over the campfire and cook all my food on that.
One time I even discovered bacon-wrapped marshmallows. It's true! Believe it or not, they were as delicious as they sound.
That said, we here at Electric Smoke Center don't condone wasting bacon, or marshmallows, in such a callous manner. Which is why when we heard that pellet grills were gaining in popularity across the barbecuing world, we were instantly intrigued. But what is a pellet grill?
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Picture your standard smoker. It's a drum-shaped metal barbecue with a hopper offset to the side or rear. In a similar fashion, a pellet grill has a hopper box which vents into the main cooking chamber.
That's because, at its heart, a pellet grill is a smoker. It uses heat and smoke from the pellets to cook the food. Think of it as a giant oven. That is, except for a portable pellet grill.
A portable pellet grill is a scaled-down version of a regular pellet smoker grill. It may be smaller and able to set up on a tailgate. Other versions are larger and include folding legs or wheels.
No matter how they manage it, a portable pellet grill is able to get around easily. And because it's a pellet grill and not a gas grill, there's no need to carry propane canisters with you.
Because there aren't that many grills to choose from, you would think that finding the perfect grill for you would be easy, right? If only that were true.
At the end of the day, the portable pellet grill that appeals to you will depend a lot on style, price, size, and any extra bells and whistles. Everyone is different.
For that reason, we didn't list these in any particular order. We'll let you find the perfect grill for you!
First up is the Camp Chef Pursuit 20 portable pellet grill smoker. This is one of those portable grills which are nice and big. Sturdy plastic wheels and folding legs provide the portability you need to stash the grill in your trunk easily.
But get this: it comes with a whopping 2,100 cubic inches of grilling space. You get a 500 square-inch grill, two meat probes, and a 10-pound wood pellet hopper. You'll especially love the easy ash clean out trapdoor.
One thing you'll notice is that the Camp Chef Pursuit 20 is on the pricier end of the spectrum. Expect to pay premium price. Of course, you get what you pay for. In this case, you get an awesome portable pellet grill. You also get a great three-year warranty.
On Amazon, customers gave it a whopping 4.8 out of 5 stars. This was the highest-rated portable pellet grill we found.
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What do mountains and Davy Crockett have in common? Why, cooking meat, of course! With the Green Mountain Grills Davy Crockett Pellet Grill, you get a tiny and portable pellet grill you can take anywhere.
This little barbecue is perfect if you live in an apartment or you do a lot of camping. It's 29-inches by 14-inches by 20-inches. Picture a steel lunch box with folding legs, and a big black wood pellet hopper slung on the side.
We love this portable pellet grill thanks to its digital "Sense-Mate" thermal sensor so that we can keep track of the internal temperature. You'll pay premium prices for this tiny but powerful pellet grill. In addition, you get a great 3-year warranty.
Also, customers on Amazon gave it a respectable 4.1 out of 5 stars. Almost everyone said that the Davy Crockett grill has excellent temperature controls. That thermal monitor is a real fan favorite. People also loved that this is an ultra-portable pellet grill.
Some people complained that it had the inferior build quality, and several people had their units malfunction. Thankfully Green Mountain Grills has excellent customer service and an even better warranty.
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Next up is the 3-year warranty portable tabletop wood pellet grill. Traeger is the original pellet grill inventor and producer. And while you might think that they're unhappy that they no longer enjoy patent protection, you would be wrong.
With all the new manufacturers entering the market, pellet grills have exploded in popularity, and Traeger enjoys great sales thanks to it.
But let's get back to the Traeger Scout. This little steel box resembles a safe more than a barbecue. It's designed to sit right on the table, with four little metal legs under the body.
The pellet hopper is built right into the body, so you get a uniform box. It comes with a meat probe and digital temperature control that allows you to control the cooking process.
This thing is only 13-inches high and 21-inches wide. That makes the Traeger Scout the smallest portable pellet grill we reviewed. Expect to pay premium prices for it. And like most of the grills we chose, it comes with a 3-year warranty.
Customers on the bbqguys.com website gave it 5 out of 5 stars. They loved that it is small and versatile. While it cooks food just fine, it seems to be the combination of size and function that customers loved.
Fourth on our list is the 5-year warranty Portable Pellet Grill. With 340 square-inches of cooking space, folding legs, a 5-pound hopper, and an additional flame broiler, it's perfect. It hits that sweet spot between portability and amazing function.
We also loved the stylish bronze look. It has a digital control panel with an internal temperature monitor. That means you can keep a good watch on how your food is cooking. A rear-exhaust convection system keeps hot air flowing around inside. Neat!
You'll pay premium prices for this versatile barbecue. But it gets better. That's because the Pit Boss grill comes with a fantastic 5-year warranty!
Then, at the Walmart website, customers gave the Pit Boss a healthy 4.1 out of 5 stars. They raved about how well it smokes food. One person even said that they would never go back to another barbecue.
Finally, we have Z Grills ZPG-450A wood pellet grill and smoker. With a name like the ZPG-450A, you know this is a serious piece of equipment. One look at it and you get the impression that you're dealing with a full-powered smoker and not a portable pellet grill.
That's because it has 450 square-inches of cooking space inside a metal drum, with a massive 15-pound hopper on the side. A chimney stack rises above the entire unit. Also, you can reach temperatures of over 450-degrees, making this the hottest grill we included. As we said, this is a serious machine.
In addition, expect to pay premium price for the ZPG-450A, depending on the options you choose to go with it. It comes with a 3-year warranty. Also, on Amazon, customers gave it 4 out of 5 stars.
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Imagine this: the mouth-watering aroma of chopped wood and the ease of gas. Except that you don't need to chop wood and you don't need gas. Does that sound too good to be true?
Don't worry, because it exists today in the form of wood pellets. These are basically little pellets made of wood and pulp materials. Because they're dry, they burn really easy. And a pellet grill is like a drum or traditional smoker with a chamber attached for the pellets.
But there's more.
The original pellet grill patent belonged to Traeger, but since the patent expired in 2009, the floodgates opened. According to the Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association, pellet grills are fast becoming the most popular barbecue on the market. There are good reasons for this.
By now you're probably wondering if a portable pellet grill is a barbecue or a smoker? The truth is that a pellet grill is a smoker. It uses compounded wood pellets to create hot smoke instead of wood chips. But it gets better.
You see, pellet grills are super-easy to use. Inside the pellet hopper is a metallic rod. This is an electric heating element, which glows bright red when you turn it on. That ignites the wood pellets.
You can then set the temperature you want with digital controls, and the rod will control how hot the pellets burn. Then the pellets will burn, glowing red or even white depending on the temperature.
Next, a fan blows the heat and smoke from the hopper into the cook box. Metal plates under the grill heat up, providing ambient heat which cooks your food.
At any rate, you never get the choking, polluting smoke of charcoal or need to fight with pressurized gas canisters. Just load the pellets, turn it on, and forget about it.
Is using a portable pellet grill healthy? What's inside those wood pellets?
The first thing you need to know is that pellet grills use special food-grade wooden pellets. You can't just throw any wood pellets in there. That said, those wooden pellets are as safe as any other type of grilling combustible.
You see, those food-grade wood pellets consist of sawdust pressed tightly together into pellet form. Some may contain flavored vegetable oils for extra seasoning. They are as safe as charcoal or propane. However, there's always an element of risk when grilling.
Carcinogens in food burning on a grill may heighten the risk of cancer, but if you've ever wolfed down a Whopper and fries, grilled food is the least of your worries.
By now you think that you might check out one of these newfangled portable pellet grill contraptions. Why not?
You can pick up a portable pellet grill for affordable prices. Most places that sell barbecues carry them, including Home Depot and Amazon.
Make no mistake about it; there aren't many pellet grill manufacturers out there. We expect to see more enter the market now that they're not held back by patents. But for right now, you're looking at only a handful of pellet grills.
So we checked out the ones that we do know about, and read up on each of them. Then we checked out customer reviews, to see what real people had to say.
There were three that we dropped from our list, simply because they had overwhelmingly poor reviews. That left us with a list of the best portable pellet grill options you can buy.
The cool thing about owning a portable pellet grill is that when grilling season arrives, you can go anywhere. You're not stuck to your backyard. Surprise your friends and bring your grill to their home. Everybody will appreciate delicious smoked meat.
The only thing you need with a portable pellet grill is a power outlet, some wood pellets, and some delicious food to cook up. So what are you waiting for? It's grill season!
What kind of grill do you use? Let us know in the comment section below!