And, over the past few years, I've become a convert to wood pellet-fired smoker grills that shun charcoal and gas as a fuel source for something a lot more interesting.
Wood pellet grills work by feeding tiny wood pellets, often infused with flavorings, into a small pot furnace where a heating element burns them to start combustion and then an in-built fan is used to blow air over them to create flames and heat.
Sounds pretty cool, no? Well, they are and over the past few years I've definitely become a wood pellet grill convert.
However, I feel there are a few key things anyone should know before buying a wood pellet-fired grill/smoker as, despite being a quite seasoned griller myself beforehand, I didn't until I found out by actually using one.
1. They're not as fast as gas, or as slow as charcoal
Ok, the first thing to know about wood pellet grills is that they don't heat up as fast as gas grills, but they are quicker than charcoal grills.
From my experience the average wood pellet grill takes about 20-25 minutes to hit a cooking temperature. This comes from the wood pellets needing to be fed to the augur from pellet bin, then from the augur into the fire pot, then the pellets need to be ignited by the heating element, and then the fan needs to stoke the flames.
This is in no way a problem, but you do have to plan it into your BBQ event, as you can't cook anything before the grill is at temperature and then you have the actual cooking time before you can serve food.
For me, if I want a quick mid-week BBQ for just a few people then I'll likely use a gas grill, as I can have it out and up to temperature in minutes. But if I want to cook for a lot of people on a sunny Saturday, say, and I've got more time to play with, then I use the wood pellet grill. Same with if I want to slowly roast or smoke a larger piece of meat of whole bird.
Basically, don't buy a wood pellet grill and expect it to be as quick as a gas grill.
2. They're incredible smokers and roasters
Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed plenty of brilliantly smoked food from smokers not powered by wood pellets, but I've never had smoked food better than out of a wood pellet-powered smoker.
The two major produces of wood pellet smoker grills, Weber and Traeger, manage this as they infuse their pellets with various flavourings, meaning you get both the smoky taste of a traditional smoker as well as extra flavor on top.
Traeger, for example, sells wood pellets flavored with hickory, apple and cherry infusions, as well as offering pellets that are designed to enhance specific produce like brisket, ribs or poultry.
And, due to most wood pellet grills also offering large capacity cooking drums, they're perfect for roasting larger cuts of meat ranging from chunky steaks to chickens and right up to suckling pigs. You can roast and smoke and the results are fantastic. The wood pellet flavorings also enhance vegetables and fish in my experience.
Basically, from a smoking and roasting point of view, wood pellet grills are king.
3. They're louder than gas and charcoal grills
Ok, here's one of the biggest things I didn't anticipate with wood pellet grills – due to their furnaces requiring a fan to blow air over the ignited wood pellets, they do make a background fan noise most of the time.
In a garden party or public gathering this with be inaudible as the fan noise is low level, but if you're near the grill in a quiet garden with no other noise then it is definitely noticeable and, I for one, wouldn't want to sit right next to it.
When you're the grill master in charge of it it is a different story, though, as the fan noise along with the roar of the fire pot furnace adds to the drama of using the grill, adding maximum cool points to each usage.
Basically, you should think of a wood pellet grill as an outdoor fan oven and, just like your fan oven makes a background fan noise, so too will your wood pellet grill. This is obviously not something you have on a gas or charcoal grill, which don't require built in fans, so overall I'd say they are quieter.
Here's my current top wood pellet BBQ grill top picks
Right now I'm enamoured by two wood pellet grills and smokers above all others, namely the Weber SmokeFire EPX 6 Stealth Edition and Traeger Ironwood 650. I gave both these BBQs 5 stars on review and have been bowled over by the quality of their cooking performance.
I realise both of these are top, top-tier wood pellet grills, though, and cost a lot of money, so if you're looking to go wood pellet for less, then I suggest also checking out the Weber SmokeFire EX4 and Traeger Pro 575 – the latter ringing in for well under a grand. There's also the portable wood pellet grill from Traeger, the Traeger Ranger, which is good if you travel and grill a lot, and retails for just over half a grand at most retailers.