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 like pellet grill because it smoke meats at a low and slow pace.
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
Photo by Weber Grills (@webergrills)
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.
- Cheap to buy – Gas grills are affordable on almost any budget. Higher-end models offer more features and gadgets, but the lower-end versions get the job done just as well without all the fanfare. Gas as a fuel is cheap, efficient, and available almost anywhere. The typical propane tank provides around 20 hours of cook time on a grill.
- Easy to clean – With this grill type, you won’t have to worry about disposing of charcoal or wood palette or ash. Since gas is a clean fuel, it just burns directly from the hook-up. All you have to clean are the grates and burners.
- Quick-cooking speed – Typically, the newer models of gas grills only take about 10 minutes to heat up for ideal cooking temperatures. Once your food is on the grates, it’ll be ready quickly without having to fuss over monitoring temperatures.
- Great for grilling – Grilling at high temperatures is what gas grills are made for. While smoking low and slow is possible on a gas grill, they’re really meant for searing a steak to blue rare with those great grill marks.
- Simple to use – Gas grills are no mess, no fuss. As long as your propane tank or gas line is functional, you’ll have no problem adjusting your temperature to the right degree to get your food prepared for your guests with little attention needed to the grill itself.
- Lack of BBQ flavor – Gas grills can have an accessory like a pellet smoking tube added to them for additional flavor. This might be a separate purchase or may even come with a higher-end model. If you want a smoky flavor added to your food, you must use an accessory similar to this because gas has no flavor.
- Heat retention is a problem – Gas grills are poor smokers because they don’t retain heat well. Because of the gas or propane fuel source itself, the grill needs to have excellent ventilation in order to function safely.
- Takes time to get to know the grill – There’s a bit of a learning curve as you get used to the fast heating and temperatures. Once you’ve learned how quickly the grill heats up and you’ve tried cooking different meats, translating cooking times and temps into new recipes becomes easier.
- There are some safety considerations – Gas grills require a space that is well-ventilated with few physical obstacles around them. Doing this reduces the number of fire hazards that may be caused by using gas. Check local regulations and laws, as some areas may forbid the use of gas grills or propane.
Pellet Grill Overview
Photo by Camp Chef (@campchef)
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.
- Heats up fast – Pellet grills heat up fairly quickly when compared to other grill types. Generally, they’re preheated and ready to cook within 10 to 15 minutes.
- It cooks just about anything – Pellet grills are a jack-of-all-trades because they allow grillers to bake, barbecue, grill, roast, and smoke all in one outdoor appliance. One thing to remember is that these grills don’t work their best at higher temperatures. Your food will taste incredible, but you won’t get sear marks. Patience is key for this low and slow pro.
- Easy to maintain – Pellet grills are surprisingly low maintenance. Outside of cleaning the cooking surfaces and occasionally dusting out the firepot, you’ll find very little attention is needed to be paid to these grills.
- Energy-efficient and sustainable – The convection fan inside the unit does a lot of work and it runs on minimum electricity. Purchasing the renewable wood pellets used in these grills costs less money over time than charcoal or refilling propane tanks. Burning pellets is less taxing on the environment, making these grills the most sustainable form of outdoor cooking.
- Convenient for entertaining guests – There’s no “manning the grill” with this type of outdoor cooker. All you have to do is plug it in, load up the hopper with pellets, then set the temperature. After that, all you have to do is enjoy the weather, your company, and your beverages while you wait for dinner to be ready.
- Pellets must be on-hand – While the grill itself runs on electricity, you can’t operate it without the smoke pellets. These are more of a specialty item than your average charcoal that can be picked up at your favorite grocery store. Getting the pellets you want or need may require a special trip to a home improvement store or ordering them online.
- Not the cheapest option – Pellet grills are more expensive than their other grilling counterparts. They have more moving parts than other girls and 2 fuel sources. Because of this, you may be looking at shelling out some serious cash.
- Less smoke and less heat – While pellet grills allow users to smoke meat, they don’t produce as much of a smoky flavor as something like a stick burner. They’re not great at higher temperatures so unless you’re willing to purchase an additional searing attachment for the grill, your food won’t have the trademark searing that other grills produce.
- They need to be plugged in – Pellet grills aren’t really meant to be on-the-go grills. Unless your campground or tailgate space offers access to outlets, you’ll need to bring a generator with you or opt for a more portable choice.
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.
Other types of grill comparisons that you might find it useful: Pellet Grills vs Kamado Grills
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.