Pellet Grill Vs Charcoal: Which Is Better And Why? [ In 2021]

Pellet Grill Vs Charcoal grills are two of the most popular ways to cook food. Pellet grills are electric, while charcoal is lit with a match or lighter. Both have advantages and disadvantages, but which is best for you?

That depends on what you’re looking for in a grill. Read on to learn more about each type of grill, its pros and cons, and which one we recommend!

Pellet Grill

1. Pellet grills are for people who:

a) Like to do their smoking/grilling and have better confidence in doing so

b) Like the control of temperature more than they care about smoke or lack thereof

c) Want to feed 4 people on a weekday with minimal effort/maintenance, but who probably don’t mess too much around with it beyond that (here’s where many people think a pellet grill is perfect)

2. Advantages of pellet grills

a) Extremely consistent heat, which means they hold temperature very well (to within 10-15 degrees over long periods and high temps), which in turn leads to better consistency in cooking since you’re not relying on the vagaries of lump charcoal or wood

b) Have very well designed cooking racks in most cases, which means food almost always sits evenly and doesn’t require constant attention/shuffling

c) Lots of available accessories to improve functionality and “features” like WiFi connection, temp probe meat probes, etc. (most people don’t need these things, but they’re nice to have)

d) Can be easily used to smoke by adding a wood chip box and some wood pellets and doing a very long smoke (I’ll write an article on that separately sometime in the future if anyone is interested)

e) Have many more internal parts, which means there are more “keeping it going” parts available and more flexibility for the customer to decide how they want it to work

3. Negatives of pellet grills

a) Pellets are not cheap, especially if you’re buying larger bags that last longer or you live in a rural area with few suppliers (not applicable here in Korea where I’m sure there’s at least one outlet for everything)

b) Maintenance is a bit more involved than with charcoal since you’re feeding the fire, which means you have to make sure pellets don’t run out and that they get replenished as needed

c) With pellet grills, it’s not possible to “run out” of fuel because pellets are a consumable (I’ll write an article on that separately sometime in the future if anyone is interested)

d) Even though they’re pretty good at holding temperatures, it’s not possible to keep them for long periods unless you have a high-quality grill and you know what you’re doing with temperature regulation (see the next section for this one)

e) Not as easy to control the temperature at low temps (say <200C/390F), especially with all-in-one units, because you have less control over the airflow and are relying on electronics more for a fire that should be indirectly heated.

Pellet Grill

Charcoal Grill

1. Charcoal grills are for people who:

a) Like the feel of a live-fire more than they care about temperature control, or lack thereof (you should know that few things taste BETTER cooked over charcoal than they do off of pellet grills, it’s just harder to replicate indoors, hence most people gravitate toward pellet grills because they’re better suited for indoor use)

b) Are more interested in smoke than anything else

c) Want to be able to dial-in low temps well or want the ability to cook over a very long period without electricity (the fuel you need lasts a long time to run a charcoal grill)

Read also: Best Indoor Grill 2021: Top Brands Review

2. Advantages of charcoal grills

a) Easier to run, especially in terms of getting the fire and temperature set up correctly (if you’re doing it right) because, at its core, all you have are metal bars that constrict oxygen flow into the coals/wood/chips (or pellets in some cases)

b) It Can get boiling, especially with lump charcoal on the fire, which means you can sear meats at higher temps than is possible with a pellet grill.

At its highest setting, it’s very close to what I use for chicken skin when I want perfect crispy texture without feeling raw inside, and most charcoal grill settings are hotter than that.

c) Can do smoking in a more open-air fashion on a charcoal grill since the fire isn’t enclosed like it is with pellets (the benefit of this is that there’s less airflow over the meat to cool down your smoke/cooking temp when you’re trying to hit <250C/480F meat temps and you don’t want that)

d) Can control the temperature better than a pellet grill (most of the time, see next section), except in cases where you’re using gas grills with electronic igniters, which is pretty rare these days for most people who do their cooking (minus one Korean gas grill that I know of)

3. Negatives of charcoal grills

a) They’re much harder to control the temperature with, especially for beginners, since you have to be careful about the size and type of coals/wood/chips you use, which means you also have to monitor your temps more carefully

b) Get very dirty, with ash dropping everywhere (assuming you’re using lump charcoal or wood) even when you do nothing wrong

c) Require maintenance of the fire more often than a pellet grill does, which I wouldn’t say I like to do if I can avoid it. Since burning/lighting charcoals and grilling over them are two different activities, there is a lot of back and forth between these two things when you’re using a charcoal grill.

You have to light the coals, then wait a while for them to heat up. Then you can grill, but if you add food after an hour or so into it, your heat is going to drop because of higher airflow over the coals (because they’re hotter), which means more work getting the temperature back up again.

d) Require more cleaning than a pellet grill does because of the ash and grease that drip everywhere.

A pellet grill is much easier to clean, even when you’re grilling at high temps over long periods (granted, if you’re doing this with pellets on an all-in-one unit, you need to be careful not to over smoke the meat, but that takes care of itself most of the time with pellet grills).

Charcoal Grill

Pellet Grill Vs Charcoal: Which Is Better And Why?

1. Impact on Flavor

It’s all about the burnt wood flavor on a charcoal grill and how well you can replicate it with your pellet grill. The problem is that burning/charring wood produces smokier flavors than pellets or gas grills (though lump coal tends to be much less smokey than briquettes).

There are ways to mimic this with a pellet grill, so if you’re cooking something that isn’t too smoky-tasting, it won’t make much of a difference. If you’re going for those classic barbecue flavors using your smoker box or charcoal chimney starter, then the flavor differences between these two grills stand out.

2. Initial Cost

I haven’t done an actual cost analysis for this, but most people I know who have pellet grills tend to spend way more on them, just because they’re newer (and, in the case of Traeger Grills, premium-priced).

For example, if you buy a 22″ Weber Kettle charcoal grill with 2 side tables and a charcoal chimney starter, that’s going to set you back about $200 on sale.

Suppose you want an entry-level electric smoker that can do essential smoking. In that case, a decent gas grill with electronic ignition for venting purposes, and a high-end pellet grill (the Camp Chef PG24 Pellet Grill), that is going to run close to $1000.

3. Operating Costs

If you’re using the best quality pellets, then $0 + your electric bill for running the thing (assuming you have access to electricity or don’t mind buying a generator).  It’s only when you start getting into cheaper brands that you begin seeing startup costs like that with charcoal grills and gas grills.

4. Ease of use

If you’re a charcoal grill guy, then the learning curve is pretty steep for getting used to how a pellet grill works and using it safely (having access to electricity at home helps).

If you’re a gas grill guy, the learning curve is way lower because there’s just no messing with anything.  Setting up a gas grill is as easy as snapping in the grates and turning on the gas, and you’re good to go.

5. Versatility

A charcoal or gas grill can do everything a pellet grill can do if you have an all-in-one electric model (besides smoke) because it’s just about heating the thing.

6. Temperature Range

This is where pellet grills win hands down, even though this is unfair because we’re not comparing like for like here. With a charcoal grill, you have to add coals as required to maintain a specific temperature, which can be tricky if you’re also trying to cook/baste/moisten your meat.

With a pellet grill, you only need to worry about refueling every 1-2 hours at most. It’s also way more accessible with the automatic temperature control: no worrying about what setting the dial is at or how much fuel you have left, knowing that you’re going to be able to maintain a specific temperature as long as the pellets are fed into the hopper.

7. Temperature Control

If you’re using a charcoal grill, you need to constantly adjust your vents and watch what your thermometer says at all times.  With a pellet grill, there’s no messing around; it just turns the dial-up or down, and it goes.  You can’t do that with charcoal (unless you’re doing all-natural lump coal).

8. Run Time

The higher-end pellet grills like the Traeger Model: T2600 are meant to run 24/7, for as long as you want at a consistent temperature (up to 624°F, according to Traeger’s website).  If you have access to electricity and don’t mind feeding it pellets every 1-2 hours, this is a huge plus.

9. Available Extras

You can get just about any extra accessory for your pellet grill that you want: weatherproof covers for those harsh winters, WiFi accessories that connect to your phone and let you monitor the grill from a distance (so long as you’re within range), etc.

How to Choose the Right Grill for You

How to Choose the Right Grill for You

If you have the cash, then go for a pellet grill.  Even if you’re trying to keep your spending down in other areas of life, it’s not something that should be compromised.

Sure, a cheap gas or charcoal grill might satisfy your needs for a while, but as soon as you start seeing those temperature spikes, you’ll appreciate an electric grill so much more.

It’s not cheap up front, but it will pay for itself when you’re not running to the store every week to buy charcoal or gas (or both).

If you don’t have the cash and can only spend $100-$200 on a grill, then get yourself a gas grill.  A high-quality gas grill will do everything a pellet grill does, but just not as well or consistently.

If you’re an occasional user and don’t want to spend too much money on something that you’ll only use once in a while, then stick with charcoal or get a cheap gas model.

The learning curve is way higher for pellet grills, so unless you’re committed to eating many grilled lumps of meat (which we recommend, because yum!), then there’s no point spending the money on more than what you need.

If price is an issue and ease of use is essential to you, get yourself a portable gas grill.

They have everything you need without the headache of a charcoal or pellet grill.  Just keep in mind that these get very expensive if you want something higher quality.

See, it’s not all about how fancy your grill is.  You can have the most excellent-looking stainless steel one with all kinds of bells and whistles, but if it doesn’t suit your needs, then what’s the point?

If you don’t think a pellet grill will suit your needs, that’s fine; it’s a compromise.  But if you can afford one and want one, remember that once you go electric, there’s no going back.

Gas: Budget-friendly, easy to use, but tricky in terms of temperature control.   Don’t expect flame-grilled perfection just because you’re using gas.  Suitable for infrequent grilling or if you want something portable; wrong if the temperature is your primary concern.

Charcoal: Don’t expect steakhouse quality food if you’ve never tried cooking over charcoal before.  It takes time to get the hang of it, but there are tricks to make it easier and more consistent (see the section on all-natural lump coal).

Suitable for enthusiasts and those who like a challenge; bad for infrequent grilling or if you want something portable.

Pellet: The holy grail of grills; great for the enthusiast who wants everything a grill can do and likes consistency. You won’t get that flame-grilled flavor, but your food will still taste good (better than gas).

Good for frequent grilling; bad for infrequent grilling or if you want something portable.

FAQs

Are pellet smokers as good as charcoal?

Wood pellet smokers are great for cooking meat at a constant lower temperature. This is because higher temperatures tend to be harder to reach and maintain with pellets, which burn quicker than charcoal in comparison.

Read also: Grill Vs Smoker: Which Is Better And Why?

Are wood pellet grills worth it?

Pellet grills are great for all of your cooking needs. They make a perfect set and forget cooker, as they cook evenly at any temperature you choose with no flare-ups or mess.

Pellets can be cooked in the grill without using lids while retaining their smoke flavor before being disposed to create delicious leftovers. With its ease-of-use features, clean-up is quick too!

How long do you cook a steak on a pit boss pellet grill?

Preheat your Pit Boss Pellet Grill to 250°F then close the lid 10-15 minutes. As the grill is preheating, spice up those steaks with a generous dusting of Chop House steak rub and prep them for 60 minutes on top of this hot griddle or until they reach an internal temperature hovering around 105 degrees F (medium-rare).

Conclusion

While there are many different types of grills, the two most popular among consumers are pellet and charcoal. With so many options to choose from, it can be challenging to decide which grill is best for your needs.

This blog post will help you understand how each type works and when they might be a better option than others. Have you found the perfect grill yet? Let us know in the comments below!

Leave a Comment