Wood pellet grills are among the hottest trends in the barbecue world. They offer the smoky flavor of wood-fire cooking, the ease-of-use of gas grills and the precise temperature control of ovens.

While gas grills are a more convenient substitute for charcoal, pellet grills work in a whole different way. They cook with convection style—slower, lower temperatures than traditional grills—leaving meats tender and juicy but without the searing capabilities. ­Pellet grills have electric motors, so most require access to electricity.

Using a Pellet Grill

Pellet grills are so easy to use that they’re sometimes called “set it and forget it” barbecues or “the crockpots of barbecuing”—but you still must keep an eye on your grill to ensure that it doesn’t run out of pellets. It can be tricky to restart a grill that runs out of pellets mid-cook.

Pellets typically cost around $1 per pound for 20-to-40-pound bags. Expect to burn one to two pounds of pellets per hour, though this can vary depending on cooking temperature and other factors. Use only “food-grade” domestic hardwood pellets. Many different types of hardwood trees are used to make pellets, each offering a different flavor profile.

Store pellets in a sealed plastic or metal container inside your home so they are not destroyed by humidity.

Great Wood Pellet Grills

Reliable makers of wood pellet grills include Green Mountain Grills, MAK, Memphis Grills, Recteq, Traeger, ­Yoder and Z Grills. Among the top picks…

The “Cadillac”: Memphis Elite from Memphis Wood Fire Grills is capable of grilling and searing in addition to smoking—it can reach temperatures up to 700°F and offers the option of cooking directly over flames. It has a massive 1,274-square-inch cooking surface and a big 24-pound pellet hopper. $5,399.

The Value: Recteq RT-700 is ­solidly built, reliable and attractive—it’s made almost completely from durable stainless steel. The RT-700’s massive 40-pound hopper can support slow cooks lasting more than a day without requiring a refill. Its 702 inches of cooking surface can fit six racks of ribs. The company has a reputation for strong customer support. The grill’s top temperature is 500°F. $1,199.

The Sub-$1,000 Option: The Daniel Boone Prime Plus from Green Mountain Grills offers features and build quality that outshine other wood pellet grills in its price range. It can reach 550°F, has an 18-pound capacity hopper and 458 square inches of cook space. It can be controlled via a smartphone app. Unlike most wood pellet grills, you don’t even need access to a standard electrical outlet—this grill can run on 12-volt power by plugging it into a car cigarette lighter/power outlet or by attaching it directly to a car battery. It’s worth adding the optional “rotisserie kit,” which slow turns meat over the grill’s smoky heat, basting it in its own fat and bringing out a whole new level of flavor. $799. The rotisserie kit costs an additional $59.95.

Great Pellet Grill Recipes

These barbecue recipes translate particularly well to smoking on a wood pellet grill…

Big Kahuna Barbecued Packer Brisket

This slow-smoked Texas Hill Country–style brisket will make your reputation as an all-star barbecue chef. Prep time: 15 minutes. Grill time: 10 to 14 hours. Resting time: One to two hours.

  • 1 brisket, 12 to 14 pounds
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Black peppercorns, coarsely ground
  • Hot red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Sliced white bread for serving (optional)
  1. Trim the brisket. Leave a layer of fat at least one-quarter-inch thick.
  2. Place the brisket on a rimmed sheet pan, and generously season all sides with salt, black pepper and ­(optional) red pepper flakes.
  3. Heat grill to 250°F. Place a metal bowl or aluminum foil pan containing one quart of warm water under or alongside where the brisket will sit.
  4. Position the brisket on the grill with the thicker end closer to the firebox. Cook until the outside is darkly browned and the internal temperature is around 165°F, around eight hours.
  5. Remove the brisket from the grill, and wrap tightly in butcher paper, then return to the grill. Continue cooking until the internal temperature reaches 205°F and meat is very tender—typically another two to four hours.
  6. Transfer wrapped brisket to an insulated cooler, and allow to rest one to two hours.
  7. Unwrap the brisket, transfer to a welled cutting board, and pour any juices that accumulate into a bowl.
  8. Trim off any lumps of fat, and cut the brisket in half widthwise. Set the point section aside, and make a diagonal cut to remove the thinnest corner of the flat, which will be tougher and drier than the rest of the brisket. This can be diced and served as “burnt ends.” Slice the remaining brisket across the grain. Pour any juices from the cutting board over the slices. Serve with bread and/or sauce on the side.

From The Brisket Chronicles by Steven Raichlen. Photography by Matthew Benson. Workman Publishing © 2019.

Nashville Hot Cauliflower

The smokiness of pellet grilling combines with the cauliflower’s earthiness and spiciness of cayenne pepper and garlic in this tasty vegetarian dish. Prep time: 10 minutes. Marination time: Four to 12 hours. Grill time: 60 to 90 minutes.

  • 1 large cauliflower
  • Marinade ingredients…
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 Tbsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 1 Tbsp sweet paprika
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp coarse salt
  • 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil

Baste ingredients…

  • 2 Tbsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil or ­vegetable oil
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  1. Pull any green leaves off the cauliflower, and trim the stem.
  2. Prick the cauliflower all over with a fork, and place in a deep bowl or large resealable plastic bag. Whisk together the marinade, and pour over the cauliflower. Marinate for at least four hours and as long as 12 hours in the refrigerator, turning occasionally.
  3. Clean and oil the grate, and set to 400°F. If using a grill that cannot be set to a specific temperature, set up for indirect grilling over medium-high heat.
  4. Prepare the baste. Whisk together the cayenne, sugar, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk in the olive oil and melted butter, creating a thick but pourable consistency.
  5. Drain the cauliflower, and place it on the grill grate over a drip pan.
  6. Grill over indirect heat until browned and tender, 60 to 90 minutes, brushing with baste every 20 minutes. Transfer to a platter, and spoon remaining baste mixture over it. Cut into slices, wedges or florets for serving.

From How to Grill Vegetables: The New ­Bible for Barbecuing Vegetables Over Live Fire by ­Steven Raichlen. Workman Publishing © 2021.