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A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.
A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling,
passed on from his father and grandfather to him.
Cookouts have been a staple of the American summer for decades and the central figure of the American cookout is, of course, the grill. In the modern era of grilling, there are many options for personalization and versatility. Versatile grills are key to being able to pack your purchase with all of the customizations you want, while still being able to fit into your budget.
When it comes down to versatile grills that are also easy to use for beginner grillmasters, gas and pellet grills are the two grill types that stand out. Each has its advantages and drawbacks, but can be used to make great tasting food all summer long.
Gas Grill VS Pellet Grill Overview
Gas and pellet grills are outdoor food cookers. While they both make use of the word grill to demonstrate their outdoor cooking ability, they have a few key differences that should be considered before making your purchase. They offer convenience and speed tied together in a package that’s very user-friendly.
If you’re looking to set the tone for your summer cookouts with a lot of bang for your buck, fast cooking speed, and those trademark sear marks on your burgers and chicken, a gas grill is where you’ll want to look first.
Gas grills are simple to use. Their temperature ranges are easy to control and you really see how beneficial cooking with gas is at mid-to-high temperatures. They preheat quickly and can accommodate an assortment of foods. Gas grills are easy to find, easy to fuel, and relatively inexpensive to buy. They’re great for beginners and veterans alike because they’re so similar to cooking on a gas stovetop.
For all their popularity, it’s hard to smoke on a gas grill due to their poor insulation, and cooking at lower temperatures is difficult. Pellet grills are much more like an outdoor oven than a searing cooktop. Their benefit lies in their set-it-and-forget-it cooking style. Folks looking for a versatile outdoor cooker to smoke meats at a low and slow pace love a pellet grill.
The pellets to fuel these grills are available in traditional brick-and-mortar stores and online. They come in a variety of woods to infuse different flavors into your food and generally, pellet grills are more costly than their gas counterparts. However, the features they offer and the variety of foods you can cook on them will outweigh any amount of money you may spend on them.
Gas Grill Overview
Precision cooking at high temperatures is the primary benefit of gas grills. They cook fast, similar to a gas stovetop, and the lidded versions add features that are perfect for indirect cooking as well.
The fuel source for gas grills is either propane or natural gas. For natural gas grills, you must either have a natural gas line already available for hook up or have one installed. Like natural gas stoves, these grills are permanent fixtures in their outdoor space and cannot be moved. Propane tanks, however, are available at just about any home improvement store and some gas stations and can be purchased easily.
Once the tank is hooked up, it usually sits comfortably in a designated area either directly under or right next to the cooking surface of the grill. The gas travels through the hookup into a manifold tube that usually sits under the cooking surface. This manifold allows you to control the temperature at which the gas burns by supplying gas to the valves in the grill.
Infrared burners in gas grills have become more popular over the past few years and are good options for evenly distributing heat; however, most gas grills offer burners that produce an open flame, allowing you to char your food directly with fire. If you’re looking to cook on indirect heat, this can be achieved by leaving some of the burners off and closing the lid, allowing the heat to be evenly distributed throughout the grill, kind of like an oven.
You can also do this by using briquettes. Briquettes are small, rock-like pellets that can be situated directly on top of the gas flame using a flame rack. The flame hits the briquettes, heating them and spreading the flames and heat around the grill to more evenly heat the cooking surface. It’s more difficult to control the cooking temperature with this method so it’s generally best to use this for lower and slower cooking.
Pellet Grill Overview
To newer users, it may be easier to think of pellet grills as less grill and more outdoor ovens or cookers. The best use for these beauties is as smokers to infuse your food with rich hickory or apple flavors that can then be grilled without having to switch appliances.
As barbequing and smoking become more popular among enthusiastic summertime cooks, the variety of pellet grills available has increased, but they all work mostly the same. Pellet grills work on electricity so they’ll need to be plugged into an outdoor outlet. They use indirect heat to smoke and cook the food inside them with the help of a convection fan, very similar to the convection ovens you might find in your kitchen.
Unsurprisingly, pellet grills get their name from the wood pellets that are used to burn in them. These pellets are made from the sawdust of a variety of different woods, each giving the grillmaster a different flavor to infuse into his masterpieces. They are compressed and shaped into cylinders that resemble chicken feed.
The pellets are placed into a large container situated onto the back or side of the grill known as a hopper. The hopper feeds the pellets into a screw-shaped instrument called the auger which, in turn, feeds the pellets into the firebox or firepot.
Inside the firepot is a metal rod that heats up to glowing red. As the auger feeds the pellets into the firepot, they catch on fire and begin producing smoke that infuses into the meats on the grill rack. The heat and smoke produced by this reaction are what cooks your food.
The convection fan works to circulate smoke and heat through the grill. Often, a pellet grill also uses a piece of equipment called a heat baffle to help evenly distribute heat throughout the cooking surface to ensure that all meat cooks evenly and at the same time.
Gas Grills and Pellet Grills Go Head to Head
Pellet grills and gas grills are similar in the sense that they each serve the same purpose: They’re outdoor cookers that people love to use in the summer on their patios or poolside. While they both manage to get the same job done, they go about it very differently using different fuel sources and different cooking methods.
Ease of Use
Pellet and gas grills are widely purchased because everyone recognizes how easy they are to use. Both use a knob or ignition switch to get their flames going and heat up in a relatively short amount of time, 10 to 15 minutes for both.
Clean-up for gas and pellet grills is equally quite easy for both; it mostly comes down to cleaning the cooking surfaces. Cleaning a gas grill may be a bit more involved because drippings may fall from the meat to hit the grill burners. This needs to be removed so no damage comes to the grill caused by fatty or oily build-up. With a pellet grill, any additional cleaning may be found in emptying the firepot so ash doesn’t build up over time.
Smoking on a pellet grill is easier than on a gas grill. Gas grills weren’t built for heat retention, but it can be done with a bit of DIY skills and know-how. If you buy a smoker attachment, you can usually achieve a smoked flavor in your food, although it won’t be as strong as on a pellet grill.
Temperature Range and Control
Gas grills hit the ground running by achieving a temperature of about 500°F without much time or effort. The higher-end gas grills can ace temperatures of 700°F in about 15 minutes. These higher temperatures grant grillmasters those beautiful sear marks everyone looks for when their steak is ready to come off the grill. This also makes gas grills a great option for grilling items like pizza.
The problem comes in when grillers want to keep the temperature on the lower end. Gas grills really struggle to maintain their temperature at around 250°F because they’re not built to retain heat, especially the less expensive models. Better quality gas grills may have an easier time with consistently low temperatures, but you’ll still need to carefully monitor the temp.
If you’re looking for that low and slow setting to perfectly char ribs or brisket, then you’ve found your cooker in a pellet grill. These grills excel around 200-350°F, which is perfect for most meats and even baked goods or some pizzas. At over 400°F, pellet grills begin to struggle to maintain the temperature, and they usually can’t reach a temperature of 450°F.
The Bells and Whistles
Gas grills are straightforward, outdoor appliances that may offer side burners, rotisserie options, or even illuminated knobs and internal lights for nighttime cooking. By default, these grills don’t have fancy features or any automation. You turn it on and cook until the propane tank runs out.
Pellet grills, on the other hand, are designed to be versatile and high-tech outdoor gadgets. They come packed with technologies such as integrated meat probes, Bluetooth capability, Wi-Fi, or LCD screens that can make it feel like you’re operating high-tech machinery instead of smoking ribs. It’s not uncommon to find pellet grills that can hold the temperature to a “warm” setting after cooking has completed.
Wrapping It Up
Dropping money on a new grill can be a bit intimidating if you haven’t purchased one before, or if you’re brand-new to grilling. If you’re looking to get into the grilling game, rest assured that both options are terrific buys, but they have different strengths and weaknesses.
If you’re looking for a traditional grilling experience with high heat and sear marks without spending a fortune, a gas grill is probably your best choice. If you’re looking for a low-maintenance grill that can do just about everything from searing to smoking, you’ll have to spend a bit more, but a pellet grill is a perfect solution.