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Pellet Grill VS. Charcoal Grill

April 10, 2023 5 min read

When it comes to grills, either charcoal grills or gas grills have always come to mind. However, in recent years, pellet grills have been gaining momentum. Both pellet and charcoal bbq grills use the power of smoke to cook and flavour food. Both can provide you, your family and friends with a delicious meal that only outdoor cooking can provide and is not to be missed. But, of course, there are differences between these two different types of grill, which means you may prefer one over the other because of how or what you like to cook, and how easy you like to grill. If you can't choose between them, don't worry, the following will give you all the information you need to make a decision here.

What is a pellet grill?
A pellet grill is a type of grill that uses compressed wood pellets as fuel. The pellets are made from sawdust, recycled wood, or agricultural waste. Pellet grills come in a variety of sizes and run on electricity. This powers the grills digital controller, and the auger that moves the pellets from the hopper to the firebox where pellets are ignited by a hot rod. The grill’s computer regulates the number of pellets it burns, depending on how hot you set the temperature.

Pellet Grill

What is a charcoal grill?
Charcoal barbecue grills use briquettes (or lump charcoal) to generate heat. A bbq charcoal shelf is essentially a firebox with a grate and some sort of air control from the top and bottom. Cooking properly with a charcoal grill requires more patience than a pellet grill, but if set up properly you can smoke, sear, grill and char with relative ease.

General Charcoal Grill

How do they differ?
To help you make the best-informed decision on whether a pellet grill or bbq charcoal shelf is right for you, we’ve compared both types on some common grilling factors. Let’s take a look at what sets them apart.

Temperature control
Pellet grills are known for their excellent temperature control as they use electricity to work. This means that you can set the temperature to the temperature you want and rest assured that it will probably stay at that temperature throughout the cooking process. Charcoal barbecue grills tend to be more challenging because they don't have the digital controls to keep the temperature constant. To control the coals and the temperature, you must open and close the ventilation holes located at the top and bottom of the grill. The more air that flows through the grill, the hotter it will get and vice versa.

Temperature Range
When it comes to pellet grills, the range does depend on the brand and the model. More often than not, though, a pellet grill will not go over 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Charcoal barbecue grill, on the other hand, can easily get to over 650 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, the trick with the charcoal grill is trying to maintain a lower temperature. If you are looking to sear meat, then a charcoal grill is the way to go. On the other hand, if low and slow cooking is what you are looking for, a pellet grill will be of better service to you.

Flavour effects
With a charcoal bbq grill, you get charcoal and a strong smoky flavour. Generally speaking, when cooking on these grills, your food has a strong flavour. It tends to be stronger especially when used in combination with wood chips or wood chunks. As for the pellet grill, the smoky flavour is not so pronounced here. Food cooked on a pellet grill tends to have a subtle, mild smoky flavour and you will find a strong woody flavour.

Pellet grills require slightly more effort to maintain. Every 2-3 cooks you’ll need to remove the grates, and deflector plate and vacuum out the built-up pellet dust and any unburned pellets. Failure to do this can lead to more serious issues. Because of their more complex nature, pellet grills are more likely to fail and require replacement parts. Charcoal outdoor grills, in contrast, can essentially just be dusted off between uses and will not require any other maintenance other than a good clean after use.

Grill Costs
The initial cost of a wood pellet smoker is higher compared to a charcoal grill. Wood pellets are usually more expensive than charcoal. You should also consider the cost of the electricity used to power the grill. Charcoal grills can use both briquettes and lump charcoal and the cost of purchasing briquettes is usually not high. When considering the cost of fueling your grill, a charcoal grill is definitely the winner. The other thing to consider with pellet grills is the cost of replacement parts if they break down the road after your grill’s warranty has run out. With so many electric and mechanical parts, this is always a possibility. Outside of fuel, there aren’t really any other costs associated with the bbq charcoal shelf itself.

For some people, being able to use the grill in the backyard or take it with them on camping trips or tailgate parties is an important feature. You need to consider this factor when you are thinking of buying a grill. Pellet grills don't offer much in the way of portability as they have to be plugged into an electrical outlet to operate. Due to this and the fact that they tend to be large, they may not be as portable as other grills. Comparatively speaking, bbq charcoal shelves are great for backyard barbecues and can even be taken along on camping trips and car-end parties. In most cases, all you have to do is put it in your car and secure it until you reach your destination, then throw the briquettes in and start cooking. In terms of portability, the portable charcoal grill is the clear winner, as pellet grills are not portable.

Portable Charcoal Grill

Who is a pellet grill best suited to?

  • Value the convenience of mainly hands-off cooking.
  • Are primarily interested in smoking meat slowly at lower temps.
  • Like the added flavor of wood smoke, but not the char flavor.
  • Want to be able to use different types of wood pellets to change the flavor.
  • Want to cook with fire but also want the convenience of not having to actively manage a fire.
  • Want to still be able to occasionally turn the temperature up and sear meat with direct heat.

Who is a charcoal grill best suited to?

  • Really love the idea of building and actively maintaining a fire.
  • Want that classic char flavor with the ability to add different types of wood-smoke flavor as well.
  • Want to be able to not only cook low and slow but also reach much higher temperatures for high-heat cooking and searing.
  • Want to cook directly over a real fire.
  • Think it isn’t real barbecue without charcoal and wood.
  • Want to have a more portable option when it comes to outdoor cooking.

Now that you are fully aware of the differences between each grill, you can better determine which one is the right choice for you. Whatever you decide, you'll end up with an amazing barbecue dinner!

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